Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Big Questions about Little Hominins

The skull of Homo floresiensis (right) is much smaller than ours (left).

The skull of Homo floresiensis (right) is much smaller than ours (left), but other evidence supports that it is a new hominid species and not a modern human that suffered from a genetic or pathological condition. Credit: Debbie Argue

By Debbie Argue

The discovery of diminutive human fossils in Indonesia has challenged paradigms in human evolution – and has therefore been highly controversial. How strong is the evidence that Homo floresiensis is a separate species and not a stunted modern human?

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.

A tiny skeleton was revealed to an unsuspecting world in October 2004 – the bones of a new kind of human called Homo floresiensis (less scientifically nicknamed “the hobbit”). The bones were discovered by Indonesian archaeologists during an excavation in Liang Bua cave on the island of Flores in Indonesia. The excavation team of Indonesian and Australian researchers, led by the late Prof Mike Morwood and Dr Tony Djubiantono under the auspices of the Indonesian National Research Centre for Archaeology, aimed to find insights into the origins of the first Australians, but instead the team discovered a number of very different, and very small, individuals in strata dated to 13,400–10,200 years ago and about 100,000 years ago.

The most spectacular finding, at a depth of 6 metres, was an 18,000-year-old skeleton of a person just over 1 metre tall. The skeleton was named LB1, an archaeological reference to the cave in which it was found. The remains included the skull, leg bones, parts of the pelvis, hands, feet and some other fragments. It was so small that, at first, it was thought that the remains were those of a Homo erectus child. But the jaw had a full complement of adult teeth which suggested that, relative to modern humans, she was the equivalent of a 30-year-old. Judging by the pelvis, LB1 was probably female. Although it is not known how she died, archaeological...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.